Alice cut some generous slices of the sweet soft bread. Even as she sliced through the creamy interior, she inhaled the fresh scent of its grains. Had food always been this good? Or had she only begun to notice such things since her dunking in the ocean. Alice shivered to think of the horrible voyage once she had been washed from the deck of the Bonny Read.
In that time, she had begun to fear that she would die upon the cresting waves. It was a wonder to sit here on the genteel strand and see the waves at a distance. For the moment, Alice found strength in the idea that she was safe and secure, despite her present company.
She sat up a little more straightly in her impromptu seat. "Count, please have a slice of bread. Constance?" Alice smiled comfortably, masking her discomfort. Constance was her responsibility and she felt compelled to protect her. The Count might be a completely benign character (although she had begun to suspect he was not), nonetheless, Alice felt a strong desire to keep Constance from the harm with which she was so clearly ill-prepared.
"What a lovely spot," Constance gushed, raising an eyebrow in the Count's countenance. His lip curled as well with an expression that suggested a measure of contempt to Alice's scrutiny.
"More wine, my dear?" The Count held the bottle at the ready for her friend. Alice noticed that Constance had indeed already imbibed her glass of wine. This would not do. Perhaps the young girl had not chanced to drink wine previously. Wine in large quantities, Alice had long ago discovered, led to drunkenness and loud speech. Both were objectionable in a man, but completely unforgivable in a young woman of breeding.
Something must be done.
"Constance, perhaps you should have a little more cheese and bread," Alice said sweetly, handing over another generous helping to her friend. The Count seemed to take this gambit into consideration as he poured Constance's glass.
"Tricheor," he said with a smile that reminded Alice of something like a crocodile, "Do fish around in my trunk for another bottle of wine. We seem to be getting near the end of this one." The crouching servant shambled over so the Count could rummage in the case balanced on the man's back.
Up close, Alice could see that Tricheor was sweating profusely and emitting a smell something like one of the less savoury cheeses they had passed up in the shop. Nonetheless, Alice felt a pang of pity for the man. Whatever had led him into the employ of the Count, surely he was suffering as much as one might in such a position.
"It's awfully warm today," Alice commented, filling the empty space of conversation with a perfectly suitable pleasantry. "I rather wish we had brought parasols along with us. I fear we may not spend long in this sun. It would be quite calamitous for our complexions."
"Never fear," the Count parried effortlessly. "I can always send Tricheor for some suitable coverings."
Alice heard the servant wheeze with effort as he adjusted his back from the Count's searching hands. Things were going to be more challenging than she had expected.